Subject: Vivid and Overwhelming Memories, Thoughts of Now and Then
I was up and about and ready to leave for a meeting with the North American Mission Board in Georgia. Shirley and my toddler grandson were going with me to stay a couple of days with family in Birmingham. We were minutes away from leaving home. I stood in the living room with the TV on a morning news show and was watching as they were interrupted with the news about a plane that had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. I watched with interest and listened as they fumbled for information and explanations of what had happened.
Then another plane was spotted flying toward the Towers. Soon they recognized that it was a huge jet and the world watched as unscripted and unfiltered we saw the jet that was loaded with busy people flying to another place of work or social engagement crash into a fiery ball and now both towers looked like giant smokestacks on the New York landscape.
I began unloading the car; for whatever else the day held, it was not going to be a trip to Atlanta. As I brought things in and began to have phone calls, I watched as the news feed changed from place to place including shifting to Florida where President George Bush was sitting in a classroom reading a story to a group of children. The president was interrupted and told that America was under attack. He gently disengaged from the children and made his way out to try to begin making sense of what was taking place in our world.
I soon left home and headed to downtown Jackson to the Baptist Building to talk with the staff. On the way, more information was coming in on the radio. We began to understand that genuinely, America was under attack. Another plane had hit the Pentagon, and then we heard of another plane that had gone down and crashed in Pennsylvania near Shanksville. What next? What were we to do? Where were we to go? How could we help? How many more planes would crash?
I got to the Baptist Building and called all of our people to the Chapel. I told them what we knew, and I told them that we would be leaving soon, closing the Baptist Building, and for them to make their way home to be with their families and their children and to take care of them, love them, and help other folks as the rest of the day unfolded. Within hours, it was incredible all that had unfolded before us as the entire population of the United States of America, over 300,000,000 people, had their plans for that day scrubbed, changed, and their world forever altered.
On that day, all the planes across our land were grounded. It was an eerie sight to look up and look up and look up and there be no planes at all. News outlets scrapped all of their programs to have an unending feed, 24 hours a day reporting on and responding to the unfolding national horror. Malls closed. Movie theaters were locked. Sporting events for days were cancelled. Churches opened their doors, many of them day and night. Prayer meetings broke out not only in churches but offices and public areas.
I prayed with our staff. We closed the Baptist Building, and all of us went off to other destinations for the day to places where we would be needed more than to be clustered in the building and at our desks. I left to drive to Camp Garaywa where a conference was being held. They were joining for a session there. I told them what was taking place. I shared with them that they probably would need to get on the road and travel home across the state and adjoining states. They were needed by their families and they needed their families. We prayed, and quietly, somberly, somewhat shocked, they made their way out and away.
From there, I traveled from one church to another that was having an immediate and impromptu prayer meeting. The churches were not only open to members, but to hurting, longing, looking people. Everyone was touched by some sense of fear and uncertainty but were also grasped by a new focus – looking to God. One after another, I lived and watched as every one of us, all across our nation and beyond, had all of our plans scrapped and our hearts poured out to God. On into the night, I was at one place after another to the close of day at a church gathering of people on their knees at a prayer meeting that had not been called but everyone came.
I will never forget the following Sunday either. I was scheduled to be at one of our churches to preach on that Sunday, and though I’d never been there before, I got there and it seemed as though the place was covered with cars and a huge crowd was there to attend. There was a huge crowd. The place was filled. Chairs were brought out. They were filled. The thing I remember most vividly that through the entire service is that men – men of the church, men from the community – stood, lined across the back of the church because there were no more seats. They stood through the entire service. I remember the Lord met with us in that worship time.
Seventeen years later, 9/11/2018, the memories are as vivid if not more so than that fateful day of destruction and death. What and where and how are we going about life now? Well, I can’t speak for everyone for sure, but I do know that it seems as though already seventeen years past, we tend to forget. Of course, no one who lived through all of that will forget, but the drama and emotional tension seem to fade. That is both good and bad. None of us can live in the drama and the emotional tension of those days on and on, but it is good to remember. To remember the people, the values that we rediscovered, the relationships, the priorities of life.
In time, things settled back into semi-normalness. It was about ten days later that the first football game would finally be played, and interestingly enough, it was on a Thursday night that Mississippi State University played the University of South Carolina. Who won? Few remember, because we had discovered some new heights about life that transcend a lot of the things that we had thought and maybe now think are so important.
Clearly, they are important, but more clearly is the reality that there are some things, there are some events in life that transcend all of the problems with which we struggle, all of the pettiness of our attitudes and feelings. The emptiness of so many of our activities that were replaced, at least for a little while, with things that reminded us of the greatest values in life – a relationship with God and others that truly make life worth living. We were made by Him and for Him to bless each other and to serve Him. I remember 9/11, and I also remember how important the people around me are and the blessings they are to my life. May I never forget.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.